When I look for marketing ideas, I look in three directions: forward, backward, and sideways.
Looking Forward. By this I mean brainstorming about what the market will want in the future. Forward thinking may be the most enjoyable form of brainstorming. It is certainly the most common. Who doesn’t enjoy a conversation about “the way things are heading”?
However, it is rarely productive. For many reasons (some of which are explained in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point), speculating about future opportunities is a game for amateurs.
Prudent entrepreneurs do some forward planning. But they keep their projections to the near- and medium-term. They know from experience that the biggest moneymaking opportunities are those closest at hand.
I enjoy longer-term speculation as much as the next guy. But I save it for the golf course.
Looking Backward. By this I mean studying past marketing masters. Backward thinking is much more useful forward thinking. Yet it is often neglected by entrepreneurs. That so few marketers today know the “classics” is a pet peeve of Dan Kennedy. He sees it as a form of arrogance. He points out that the greatest marketing secrets are eternal.
The best stuff is buried in those great old ads. Read them. You’ll be astonished at how much you learn.
Looking Sideways. By this I mean seeing what your competitors are doing — and, maybe better, looking at industries outside your own. Sideways thinking is my preferred method for generating ideas. It is also the method most commonly used by successful entrepreneurs. Jay Abraham is a big proponent of this type of brainstorming. In Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got, he says:
“You probably spend too little time studying the most successful, innovative, and profitable ideas people in other industries use to grow and prosper.
“Yet, if you start focusing on other industries’ success practices, you’ll be amazed at how easily you can adapt these ideas to your own business situation. Suddenly, you’ll see significantly better results from the same time, manpower, effort, activity, and capital.”
There is a fourth direction that master marketers look in. And that is inward, to try to understand the core emotions of their prospects.
So I lied. There are four directions, not three. Sue me.
Seriously, if you want a recipe for generating ideas, I’d suggest the following:
* One cup of forward-looking brainstorming
* Three cups of backward research
* Five cups of looking sideways
* One cup of looking inward
That’s the recipe. Use it and prosper.
Source: ETR 3/10/09 Uncensored and unedited Michael Masterson